Dear Vincent

This quotation by Vincent Van Gogh inspired me today: “I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort and disappointment and perseverance.” 

Here’s the Afternoon Pages prompt it inspired:


Dear Vincent

Write an open letter to Vincent Van Gogh, describing your experiences in writing your UGP. Tell him about your efforts and your disappointments. Ask him for advice on how to persevere. As a fellow artist, conclude your letter by proclaiming the step you will take next, right now today, to progress toward making your UGP into a “beautiful thing.”


As if often the case, I’ve written a prompt that I need to respond to myself. I’m writing a UGP of my own it turns out, in the form of a proposal for an award that I really, really would love to get, but that’s highly competitive. So the stakes are high and the chance of a reward is low.

I’ve decided to go for it anyway, and I’ve made efforts toward doing the research that will help me write the proposal. I’ve gotten 3 references to agree to speak up for me, I’ve talked to experts in the field that will inform the proposal, I’ve inquired more about the format, but beyond making a bulleted list to make it through the first round, I haven’t done much actual writing.

(Wait! That’s not true. At a workshop last week, I wrote for 10 whole minutes. 10.)

And I’ve done a whole lot of thinking and hoping and doubting (lots of doubting) that the proposal itself–much less the project–will ever come to be.

Dear Vincent, how can I persevere without losing an ear in the process? What did you do? Earn nothing but keep painting anyway because you needed to answer the call of your longing. What can I learn from you? Maybe just to follow the call of proposing work that matters and is in some ways the next step in the trajectory of work that I’ve tried to do since I became a teacher.

Next step: E-mail former recipients and write for 25 mins. without stopping. Lofty goals indeed!



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